WE'RE just two rounds in and already it appears the Dragons season will be one the line when they take on Canberra on Thursday.
They'll certainly start as underdogs and a loss would see them at 0-3 with matches ahead of three of the last year's top five sides to follow.
What's got to be more frustrating for Paul McGregor, who's now under all sorts of pressure, is that his side could easily be 2-0 - in fact they probably should be.
That's perhaps the biggest of the five lessons we can take out of Friday's loss to the Panthers.
Missed chances could prove literal coach killers.
It's no secret McGregor was the most under-pressure coach coming into 2020. That type of scrutiny inevitably follows a 15th placed finish, something that will put a coach's tactics and approach under the microscope.
Fair enough, that's part of being a head coach. One oft-repeated adage is that the coach doesn't miss tackles or drop the footy.
Against the Tigers in round one, the Dragons bombed three tries cold, literally dropped the ball over the line. They weren't rookie errors either, they came from Origin players and veterans. They were errors bordering on unforgivable.
Brayden Wiliame has looked very good on the left edge, but why he went the Shaquille O'Neil attempting a free-throw route to putting Jordan Pereira across for a try late in the first half on Friday no one will ever know.
It was obviously called back and denied the Dragons a possible 10-point lead at halftime. They got there eventually (and we'll get to that), but those areas simply don't have anything to do with coaching.
Still, it could be the coach who cops it big, though the financial uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus crisis makes any club unlikely to move on a coach - particularly with another year to run on his contract.
At the very least a coach is entitled to expect his players to catch the ball.
Halves well and truly under the microscope.
It's nothing new for them, but halves Ben Hunt and Corey Norman have copped their share of flack for their inability to see their side home over the past two weeks, and rightly so.
Hunt just continues to be everyone's favourite punching bag. More recently, some have even placed the game's financial fragility in the face of the coronavirus at his feet. It's one of the more absurd things you'll hear in the game.
Never mind that clubs have sent themselves broke churning through coaches the way journos do schooners. It's just one the new and creative ways people find to kick Hunt when he's down.
But... there's no question he and Norman have been poor down the stretch of games. It was somewhat ironic they combined for a marvelous try to put their side ahead by 10 with 16 minutes to play, but couldn't get their team home on the back of it.
Like their coach, they didn't miss the tackles or make all the errors, but all teams look to their six and seven when it comes to closing the show.
One thing to admire about Hunt is that the constant criticism has never forced him into his shell, but grubbering for a front-rower before the last tackle was the wrong play in the final stages of Friday's loss. Unfortunately, it's just something that appears to have followed him throughout his career to the point it now seems a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Hunt at least carried the footy 16 times. Norman had nine runs total for 32 metres. He could certainly be doing more to ease the burden on his halves partner, who walks around with enough weight on his shoulders to begin with.
Cam McInnes' return can't come quick enough.
In the circumstances the Dragons faced coming into the season, McInnes was the player they could least afford to be without. As such, his knee injury in the Nines was a bitter pill for McGregor to swallow.
Mary said following Friday's loss that his skipper was all but certain to return against the Raiders - where things are poised you'd run him out at 80 per cent - and he'll be a huge boost.
It's only in his absence that one truly realises how import he is to the Dragons middle, particularly defensively where he leads line-speed and makes more tackles than anyone else.
What's also become clear in his absence, is that the Dragons are lacking some real punch, with and without the footy in the middle of the park. With Tariq Sims set to return this week, McGregor could do a lot worse than shifting Tyson Frizell to the middle.
The switch would be nothing to Sims, he's spent the last two seasons playing on the left edge where he's a brilliant, and intimidating, defender at bis best.
It would allow Tyrell Fuiamaono to remain on the right edge where he was really damaging on Friday - 14 carries for 177 metres. Fuimaono was the club's best-performed trial player and has proven a genuine find.
Frizell's best position is on the edge but, for the team at present, he'd be more valuable starting the game at lock to get his side on the front foot in that battle in the middle where - with the exception of Paul Vaughan - its lacked punch.
Against Josh Papalii and co, they'll need it.
You can't ride your luck in the NRL.
Luck is always a factor in our game. McGregor, and the Dragons, could certainly be wondering where all there's has gone over the last 18 months.
As they say, a rugby league ball can bounce any number of ways. It has for the Dragons over the opening two rounds, in particular Friday's loss to the Panthers.
They looked in all sorts early, looked certain to go down 18-0 only for Matt Dufty to snaffle an intercept and go 90 metres to turn the game. It was a gamble, but he took the odds to it.
Tim Lafai also made the best of a Josh Mansour howler to put Zac Lomax over. There was an element of good fortune in both. Likewise, Stephen Crichton's match-winner came when Frizell slipped and left a hole on the defensive line.
Both sides had their share of good and bad luck. All sides will, that rugby league ball can bounce in strange ways. The good sides have that knack of taking the air out of it.
Re-sign Tyson Frizell.
Just do it, for God's sake. It's understood the club were just about over the line in re-signing the Test and Origin star, fending off strong interest from the Knights.
The Coronavirus and the resulting financial scramble has thrown a spanner in the works but the club can't let it slip. Frizell's too important to the club and its future to let go.
There's 13 other players off contract at the club. There's cap wriggle room there, not on Frizell.